As economic crisis looms, threatening the prospects of thousands of future financiers across campus, we arts majors must confess to feeling a little, well, smug. For the past several years we’ve girded our loins for a rocky post-collegiate existence. We’ve read Hemingway’s memoirs and prepared to go without meals for days at a time. We’ve joined Facebook groups proclaiming “I Picked a Major I Like, and One Day I Will Probably Be Living in a Box.” We’ve built up our quads so we can climb to our eighth-floor garrets with comparative ease. We’ve even learned the warning signs of consumption in case things should take a turn for La Boheme. Each summer, we intern in art studios and theaters and support ourselves by waiting tables. At lunch time, we sit in the park and gaze longingly as our classmates walk by in their business suits, jingling gold coins in their pockets and throwing Rolexes to the squirrels.
So now, when our more pragmatically-minded friends are starting to worry about their prospects, we feel a little complacent. We never expected to make six figures out of college. We were never in it for the money. We were in it for the love of English, or music, or the classics, or because environmental science and public policy was too challenging. As our practical classmates divided their time between resolving economics problem sets and drawing up plans for penthouses, we answered the distant call to contribute something of ourselves to the human race. We had callings! We were going to be composers, or performance artists, or teachers for America! Not that we objected to money on principle. It was just not something we expected to have much of, at least, not until we “made it.”
As our friends were snapped up by i-banking firms, we shrugged and tried to look unconcerned. They might soon be raking in the dough. But we’d just written a screenplay about love among the sea-monkeys. Surely that counted for more in the cosmic balance than a plum internship at Lehman Brothers! Or so we muttered to ourselves as we curled up on our low thread-count sheets every night.
But now, in the midst of fiscal crisis, as Wall Street crumbles and our friends grasp frantically at disappearing internships, we can’t wipe the grin off our faces. Now those perky i-bankers with their interview jackets and heels will have to live like we always knew we would. We’ll ride the bus together to our low-paying jobs and swap budget-saving coupons. That will teach them to put money before passion!
Perhaps there is something not quite right about this. Starving artists have existed since time immemorial. But starving i-bankers? This seems like adding insult to injury. It was fine for us artists to starve—it was our comeuppance for preferring creative writing to econometrics. Surely our future-minded friends who slaved away on demand curves do not deserve to suffer the same fate. Yet as the economy crumbles, it seems terrifyingly more and more likely that we will all be in the same boat.
And so, as we skim through Paradise Lost before section and wonder whether we’ll ever be able to contribute significantly to the human race, we English concentrators pause to issue our own call to our Ec-favoring brethren. “Ponder your futures!” we cry. “Are you in it for the Rolexes and the squash club membership? Or does the homo economicus make your heart quiver with rapture? The time has come to choose! Given the state of the economy, you probably won’t be making six figures anyway. You might as well study what you love. So if you don’t lie awake at night dreaming of ways to maximize your utility, perhaps you should start signing up for those philosophy courses you always wanted to take. Consider: If people hear you’re a starving philosopher, they will nod sympathetically. If you tell them you’re a starving i-banker, they’ll just look confused. Ponder this, and choose! So much for those e-recruiting luncheons! The close of an era draws nigh! Caution! The moving walkway is ending!” At this point we are emotionally drained and have to go lie down somewhere.
Yet the point bears considering. We VES and music and English concentrators knew we were going to struggle once we left college, but we resigned ourselves to it because we were following our passions. In their defense, so were the economics students. It just happened that their passion was making lots of money. But given the current state of Wall Street, this dream seems increasingly remote. Nowadays, if money is what you love, you should probably be pre-med.
Alexandra A. Petri ’10 is a joint English and American literature and languages and classics concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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